This advent season, we are going to approach the Christmas story through the lenses of the other people and characters involved. There is a lot to learn in how people encountered the birth of Jesus Christ.
In the account of Jesus’ birth in Matthew chapter two, we have three distinct groups or individuals mentioned besides Mary and Joseph. First, we encounter the Magi from the east. There is a lot of mystery surrounding these men, and that may actually lead us to some interesting conclusions about their relationship to Jesus. All we know for sure is that they come from the east, they were likely Chaldean or Arabian by descent, and that they were aware of what was happening in the birth of Jesus Christ. The journey they endured took a significant amount of effort and time. We learn later in chapter 2 that Herod is worried about baby boys at and under the age of two, so their journey brought them to Bethlehem up to two years after Jesus’ birth.
The second group we read about is often overlooked in the story-the scribes and priests. When Herod hears of the Magi’s visit, he is concerned about the birth of a king and asks the experts in the Law where the Messiah is to be born. Note two things about their reaction to the question. First, they know exactly where he is to be born. Second, they don’t go.
And thirdly, Herod provides a fascinating and tragic story. Historically, we know this Herod died a suspicious and hated ruler. By the time of his death he had assassinated at least three of his own sons, several wives, many beloved local tribal and political leaders, and several hundred baby boys in Bethlehem.
Observing Herod, we have our first lesson in encountering Christ. Herod reacted in fear and hatred. Ironically, Herod understood the Kingship of Jesus better than most Christians do. He knew that if this child were to grow to be King, his power and sovereignty were gone. The birth of Jesus meant he was no longer King. Likewise, the birth of Jesus means I am no longer the sovereign of my own soul-Jesus, and no one else, is King.
Encountering Jesus means not just coming to terms with my Savior, Redeemer, and Friend, but with my Lord and my King as well.
The priests and scribes reacted with distracted apathy. They knew exactly where, Herod had given them the when, but they made no attempt to make their way to the Messiah. Their preoccupation with their religiosity blinded them to THE moment in their nation’s history. There is nothing wrong with religious ritual, but it is intended to be a means to Christ, and not an end in itself.
Our religious observance should be a tool in the hands of God to help us encounter Jesus Christ. Once it becomes an end in itself, it becomes a blinding idol.
I am going to use the phrase “spiritual endurance” to describe how the Magi encountered Christ. They had no political, military, religious, or social investment or expectation in the birth of the Messiah. They did not journey in order to find their next political savior. They endured their long and arduous journey to do nothing but worship. They did not ask a thing, demand a thing, and they did not leave with a thing. They endured the journey to do nothing but present gifts to a baby-to worship the King.
What am I willing to endure just to worship? I am typically more ready to endure in order to ask, expect or even demand of Jesus, but can I be like the Magi and endure all time and hardship to do nothing but worship my King?